Miss Webster and Cherif by Patricia Duncker Bloomsbury, HK$99 The story is an old one: against all odds, two polar opposites become friends. She's a crabby former teacher pushing 70. He's a young Arab, with manners to match his good looks and a naivety about the west that only enhances his appeal. How the two, named in the title, come to meet is crafted in the first 76 pages. After a serious illness, and on the advice of her doctor, Miss Webster travels to the Sahara to recuperate. Two weeks after she returns to the cloistered village of Little Blessington, there's a knock on her door announcing the unexpected arrival of Cherif, who claims to be the son of the hotelier Miss Webster befriended on her holiday. Set in the post-September 11 era and before and during the Iraq war, the story allows Patricia Duncker to highlight the atmosphere of distrust that greets the stranger. However, the novel never veers into polemic, instead providing an intelligent, entertaining read that rarely lets the attention wander. Duncker - a creative writing professor at the University of East Anglia - provides a memorable character in Miss Webster.